LONDON -- In many ways, it has been a perfect storm for illegal gatherings in England as days of hot weather and Liverpool Football Club's first league title in 30 years have prompted people to abandon their cooped-up coronavirus existence.
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned that authorities have the power to close beaches and other public spaces in England as concerns mount over the public's adherence to social-distancing rules.
After widespread rule-breaking at crammed beaches, illegal street parties in London that turned violent and a mass celebration in Liverpool on Thursday night, there were worries Friday that many residents have ditched their risk-averse attitude as the government eases its lockdown restrictions.
That's particularly true in Bournemouth, a coastal town in southern England that witnessed huge crowds of sun-seekers on its beaches for a couple of days. With many people not working during the pandemic, most children out of school, holidays abroad curtailed and restaurants and bars closed until July 4, popular locations such as Bournemouth are feeling the pressure as the mercury rises.
"It was just mayhem. People just want to have a good time, but they just don't give a monkey's about others," said Pat Munday, 73.
Late Thursday, the hottest day of the year so far in the U.K., three men from London in their 20s were stabbed in a fight near the amusements on the town's pier. Their injuries were described as not life-threatening. Police are investigating.
With the hot weather persisting Friday, there was potential for more mass gatherings. The council in Bournemouth said extra police patrols were brought in after the "irresponsible" behavior of crowds, but the beaches appeared less packed during the day than they did Wednesday and Thursday.
Under lockdown restrictions in England, groups are limited to six people, and the public is advised to avoid public transport whenever possible.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned people against "taking liberties" with social distancing rules. saying it could lead to a "serious spike" in new infections.
"If you look at what's happening elsewhere in the world, where people have been coming out of lockdown, I'm afraid what you're also seeing is people taking too many liberties with the guidance, mingling too much, not observing social distancing," Johnson said while visiting an east London restaurant ahead of the scheduled reopening of pubs and restaurants in England next weekend.
The images from around Bournemouth prompted the health secretary to issue his warning. While saying he was "reluctant" to take such action given the stress people have endured, Hancock told U.K. radio station Talk Radio that "we will take action" if there is a spike in the number of coronavirus cases.
The government's chief medical officer also issued a rare warning on social media that cases will rise again if people don't follow the guidelines.Gallery: UK Health Secretary: Beaches could close if social distancing rules are ignored
"Naturally people will want to enjoy the sun, but we need to do so in a way that is safe for all," professor Chris Whitty said in a tweet.
The scenes of revelry were evident overnight on the streets of London and Liverpool, two of the worst-affected cities during the pandemic, which has claimed about 43,500 lives across the U.K., by far the most in Europe.
A night after clashes in the south London district of Brixton following a street party, which left 22 police officers injured, London's Metropolitan Police said officers attended further unlicensed music events, block parties and raves.
Kensington and Chelsea police said a gathering in Notting Hill in west London was dispersed by about 2 a.m. Friday. And though there were no confirmed reports of serious injury, the department said objects had been thrown at police officers.
"Such behavior and any violent acts will not be tolerated," it said.
In the wake of the clashes in Brixton on Wednesday night, the Met said it was undertaking an "enhanced policing operation" across London, which involved additional officers in place.
In Liverpool, the scenes were far more jubilant as the Reds ended a three-decade wait to be champions of England again. Fireworks lit up the sky and thousands of delighted fans packed the streets after Manchester City's defeat by Chelsea meant no team could catch Liverpool in the Premier League.
"You want to be amongst it," said 23-year-old supporter Libby Stevens.
Information for this article was contributed by Rob Harris of The Associated Press.